Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What To Do When Your Publisher Rejects Your Manuscript

by James L. Rubart

When I turned in my latest manuscript to my publisher on April 1st, I had little idea if it was any good.

The tree smashing through our house thing in January (and the ensuing aftermath) had so completely drained me that I wrote much of the novel in a daze.

But when I got feedback from the first two of my three trusted beta readers, I was encouraged.

The first said, "One of your best." The second said, "Brilliant."

The third said, "Uh, so sorry, Jim .. but I just didn't get this one. At all."

So when I got the letter from my editor saying she didn't get it either, I wasn't entirely surprised. But it was still a blow.

Where Do We Go From Here

Whether you're an indie author, or traditionally published, the above can--and probably will---happen to you. So here's a few quick tips on how to handle things:

  • Vent- "What's wrong with them? How could they miss it?" or "What's wrong with me? I'm a hack, why did I ever think I could write?" Vent your emotions. It's okay. But I highly recommend venting to your agent, or spouse or friends instead of your editor or beta readers. 
  • Reengage- ask your editor and/or beta readers what went wrong. I'm in the enviable position of truly liking my editor not just as an editor, but as a great friend. I know she wants the absolute best for me, and I know it was tough for her to send that letter saying my story was only firing on two of six cylinders. So when we put together a schedule for brainstorming on how to fix the manuscript, it gave me hope.
  • Accept the fact it's highly likely they know what they're talking about- that's why we have editors and beta readers. They're looking at the forest while our faces are smashed into the bark of the trees. If the story isn't clicking for the people you trust, then believe they have insight you don't have this time around. 
  • Don't give into the temptation to publish the book anyway- I debated for a few days about writing an entirely different book for my publisher and indie-publishing the one they rejected, but realized that would be foolish. It would cheat my readers, my publishers, and ultimately me.
Am I excited about starting over? About keeping only 5% of the story intact? Yes, I am. (I know, that sounds a little nuts, I should be screaming "NO! This is insane!") 

The reason I'm okay with beginning again is because no reader is ever going to say, "Gosh, not one of Jim's best, but wow, he would have had to rewrite the whole thing if he wanted it to be better."

The majority of the readers of this blog believe in God, and that he has something to do with directing our lives. More than something. As Proverbs says, "Man makes his plans, but the Lord directs his steps."

And that's the biggest reason I'm okay with starting over. I think God is in control. I think he's directing me.

How 'bout You?

I don't know the kind of setback you're going through right now, or if you're even going through one. But my guess is some of you are. Maybe just one person needs to hear this, so let's just you and I have a quick moment together:

You can do it . You can get up, dust yourself off, and go again. I know you can. I know God is not in front of you beckoning you to come along. No. He's next to you. He's in the race with you. 

Keep running. 

James L. Rubart is the best-selling and Christy award winning author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, THE CHAIR, SOUL’S GATE, MEMORY’S DOOR, and SPIRIT BRIDGE. During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at http://jameslrubart.com/


Sally Bradley said...

I know this book belongs to your publisher because of the contract you've signed, but if it didn't, what do you do with mixed feedback like that? Two out of four thought it was your best ever.

Gina Holmes said...

Been there, Jim. It's hard and we're only as good as our last book. Frustrating profession sometimes.

Jim Rubart said...

Good question, Sally. Because I've had these beta readers for so long, I rely on their judgement. If 3 of 4 had loved it, I might rethink things. But with 50% saying no, that was plenty to realize it wasn't working.

Jim Rubart said...


Richard Mabry said...

Jim, as you know, we all go through the agony of not knowing with each book we write. We have to be prepared for the responses you've mentioned when a book doesn't click with beta readers or an editor. These emotions can also come with bad reviews or poor sales. And they're multiplied a hundred-fold when a publisher fails to exercise their option for more books. What can we do? Keep on writing. And I agree with you about not self-pubbing (but that's just me). Stay with it, friend--your books bless thousands.

Jim Rubart said...

Love ya Doc!

Allen Arnold said...

Jim - your grace, humility, and teachable spirit really shine through here. Your vulnerability and transparency in sharing this "behind the scenes" situation shows both how you value the feedback of trusted friends - but also how that even initially disappointing news can be received in a healthy way because your ultimate identity isn't anchored in the approval of man but forged as a son of God. And that doesn't ebb or flow based on a manuscript approval. t can't wait to see what your new novel will be - but far better than the story you are writing is the Story you are living. Thanks for sharing this with us.